Disneyland Resort's New Imagineer-Designed Tenaya Stone Spa Is An Attraction With A Story All Its Own

Tenaya Stone Spa relaxation room at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

When you walk into a Disney Park, you are surrounded by stories. Each attraction, character and restaurant has its own story to tell. Story is the core of everything Disney does, so when Walt Disney Imagineering was tasked with designing the new spa for the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland Resort, as with all other things, it all started with the story.

I had an opportunity to preview the brand-new Tenaya Stone Spa at the Grand Californian before it opened to its first guests today. and what's remarkable about the new spa is how much work went into building the story and making the location feel at home inside the Grand Californian Hotel and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park. The spa takes inspiration from Native American culture from the same area of Yosemite Valley that inspired much of the hotel and the park, and it honors nature in much the same way those people still do.

Flooring of Tenaya Stone Spa

Tenaya Stone Spa Takes The Grandeur of The Grand Californian And Gives It Focus

When you enter the Grand Californian, it's nearly impossible to not be overcome by the size of it all. The hotel itself is physically massive, including the lobby. It's a very intentional design choice considering the redwood forests that inspired it are equally big, but as Walt Disney Imagineer Katrina Mosher explained, when it came to Tenaya Stone Spa, they wanted to take that focus and draw it inward. Mosher explained:

When you come into our lobby here, it's a very purposeful intention of the architecture where you have the contract and expansion into our lobby. You're kind of forced to look out and up at this big grand lobby and these redwood trees and the inspiration of the forest and everything. In the spa, we really wanted to do the exact opposite, we wanted to go down and in. In a spa you want to come in, you want to relax, connect with yourself and in translating that into honoring the spirit of nature we found our design aesthetic in going down and in not only to ourself but down and into the earth.

Part of that focus inward, and downward, includes looking down at the floor itself. The floor is wood, but rather than being wood planks, it's made up of wood rounds. By being able to see these rounds, including the rings, there's a stronger connection to the tree's life and its history. There's also, not coincidently, the opportunity to throw in more than few hidden Mickeys.

Tenaya Stone

The Powers Of Four

The Tenaya Stone Spa takes its name from one of the last hereditary chiefs of native people in the Yosemite Valley. The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which is just outside the eastern window of the spa, was also largely inspired by Native American culture, so it made sense for the spa to do the same. It's all part of the story being told.

Dawn Jackson, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, was a cultural advisor on the project and also part of the spa's story development. While she was knowledgeable about many native cultures, she reached out to the Smithsonian and was connected with members of the Miwok tribe who call the Yosemite Valley home. The relationship culminated with Disney being gifted the Tenaya Stone (seen above), which now is on display inside the spa.

As part of this focus on Native American culture, the Imagineers honed in on an idea they called the Powers of Four. Moving in any of the four cardinal directions within the spa would bring you to a different place, each having a different color and natural element representing it. Katrina Mosher explained:

In indigenous cultures there are multiple powers of four. The four directions. There are four colors. There's four sacred medicinal plants. Our spa's actually laid out in a north, south, east, west direction. In each of our four directions we have something that represents our powers of four. So depending on you take those powers of four and what tribe you are from and what's meaningful to you, you can combine them in different ways to mean different things.

Going east in the spa brings you to the relaxation room, highlighted by a large stained glass window. Because the sun rises in the east, the natural element on display is fire and the primary color being used is gold. In the west, where you enter the spa, you'll find a tree root chandelier. While the east represents fire, the west represents water thanks to the tree roots that soak it up. The chandelier is also decorated with obsidian, as the color associated with these elements is black because the sun sets in the west.

Spas are all about balance. They're about taking a break to center yourself once again, and with the power of four even the building itself presents that feeling of balance. The connection makes the person feel closer to the story being told.

Tenaya Spa's tree root chandelier

The Imagineering Difference

The previous spa in place at the Grand Californian Hotel was designed and managed by a third party company. Tenaya Stone was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering and it is run by the Disneyland Resort. This is a significant difference and we see just what the difference means when we see that attention to detail that only Walt Disney Imagineering is able to provide. So often we think of Imagineers only in terms of the attractions inside the park, but this shows just how well those same talents can be put to use outside the park gates.

Tenaya Stone Spa opens at the Grand Californian today, and it offers massages (including a room for couples massages), salon services and more (facial and makeup services are not available now, but will be added in the future). Upon opening, only guests at the Disneyland Resort hotels will be able to make reservations at the spa, but it will open to the general public in the future.

Disney vacations can be fun, but they can certainly also be exhausting, so for some, taking some time away to rest and recharge will be just what they need. But just because you may decide to take some time outside of a Disney theme park doesn't mean you have to forego the full Disney experience. There's always a story being told.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.